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Charleston's FIG Names Jason Stanhope Executive Chef

Charleston's FIG Names Jason Stanhope Executive Chef

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FIG opened in 2003, and is considered one of Charleston's finest restaurants

Chef Jason Stanhope (far right) is a six year veteran at FIG.

After serving as a critical part of the culinary team for the last six years, Jason Stanhope has been named executive chef at FIG restaurant, which has been a leader in Charleston's culinary scene since being opened by Charleston restaurateurs Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow in 2003. Stanhope has been leading the kitchen ever since FIG sister restaurant The Ordinary opened in late 2012.

In a statement, Lata stated that "Jason has continually raised the bar and continues to meet and exceed the demands of the kitchen." This is evident given the popularity of the restaurant and the rave reviews that the hotspot receives nightly.

Stanhope, a Topeka, Kansas native, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. He worked with James Beard Award-winning chefs Michael Smith and Debbie Gold at Forty Sardines in Overland Park, Kansas before moving to Charleston to work at FIG. At FIG, Stanhope offers an exceptional menu featuring local farm products. To learn more, visit FIG's official website.

Click here for more on Charleston.

Charleston's FIG Names Jason Stanhope Executive Chef - Recipes

It’s not often a Division II football player makes the leap into cooking—even though there is an overlap of adrenaline, stress, sweat, and, most importantly, teamwork. But for Jason Stanhope, who played football at Washburn University, that was enough. Deciding to leave the pigskin behind to pursue cooking, Stanhope graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco.

But it was a pivotal night in Peru, where Stanhope was then working, that rocketed him into his professional career. Stanhope moved to Cuzco as a student to complete his externship at the Hotel Monasterio. When the fish cook fell sick, Stanhope proved an able substitute, and his career-fueling confidence was born. Stanhope went on to cook throughout Peru with the Orient Express Hotel Group before returning to the States and taking a job first at Forty Sardines in Kansas City, where he worked with James Beard Award-winning Chefs Michael Smith and Debbie Gold.

A lateral move took Stanhope east in 2008, to a chef-tournant position at FIG in Charleston, working with another James Beard Award-winner, Chef Mike Lata. Stanhope helped Lata battle it out in Kitchen Stadium on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” in 2010. And he now runs Lata’s kitchen as chef de cuisine of FIG, where Stanhope continues to explore local products, develop new recipes, and enrich Charleston’s food community.

16 of the best chefs in South Carolina to follow on Instagram

Sometimes the food we find on Instagram is almost too pretty to eat. If you don’t have enough mouth-watering pictures of Southern food coming up in your Instagram feed, we’ve got you covered — we found some of the best chefs in South Carolina to follow on Instagram. These Southern chefs come from different backgrounds and their Instagram accounts offer a peek into their lives both in and out of the kitchen. Find out their tips and tricks and maybe even find some inspiration for your own cooking.

Click the arrows above to see the chefs

Sean Brock, Husk in Charleston, South Carolina

Sean Brock has built his career around serving Southern food made from heirloom and locally sourced ingredients, such as those he grows himself on his rooftop garden in Charleston. He is passionate about restoring ingredients, like Jimmy Red Corn, that had come close to extinction, and he is finding ways to incorporate them into his cooking.

Brock has a number of awards under his belt, including James Beard Award nominations and a win for Best Chef Southeast in 2010. His restaurant, Husk, has locations in Charleston, Nashville, Greenville and Savannah. In 2011, Bon Appetit named Husk “Best New Restaurant in America,” and in 2014, Husk Nashville was included in Esquire’s list of “Best New Restaurants in America.”

On his Instagram, he shares what’s happening in the kitchen, including Southern classics, like shrimp and grits, and close-up shots of hsi favorite ingredients. Who knew benne seed and black truffle could look so pretty?

Follow him on Instagram.

Gregory Collier, The Yolk in Rock Hill, South Carolina

Chef Gregory Collier may be a Tennessee native, but he you can find him cooking in South Carolina. He fell in love with cooking while watching his grandmother make butter rolls in the kitchen. After cooking in Tennessee and Arizona, Collier returned to the South with his wife in 2012. Today, you can find him cooking amazing breakfast food at The Yolk. On his Instagram, he shares his delicious Southern-style breakfast with the world.

Follow him on Instagram.

Mike Lata, Fig Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina

Chef Mike Lata opened Fig with Adam Nemirow in 2003 hoping to give the city a place to enjoy meals created with local ingredients in a comfortable setting. Although Lata is a native New Englander, he’s worked in kitchens around the South and is committed to helping the Charleston food scene grow and flourish by supporting local farmers, purveyors and fishermen.

Follow him on Instagram.

Orchid Paulmeier, One Hot Mama’s American Grille in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

At a young age, Orchid Paulmeier learned how to cook Filipino food from her mother and grandmother. She spent her life working in different restauarant jobs before opening One Hot Mama’s in 2007. Her menu is a mix South Carolina/Lowcountry cuisine and barbecue with Hawaiian influences. She has also appeared on season seven of Food Network’s “The Next Food Network Star,” and in 2016, she was named a South Carolina Chef Ambassador. Some dishes like Hoppin' John and fried fish appear on her Instagram, but Paulmeier also loves sharing what is going on with her family and life outside of the kitchen.

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Forrest Parker, The Vendue in Charleston, South Carolina

As a South Carolina native, Parker is well versed in Southern cuisine. He is currently developing a new menu for The Vendue Hotel’s new restaurant, Revival. According to the hotel’s website, Parker will be “restoring and utilizing ingredients historically found in South Carolina.” He will be focusing on modernizing Southern dishes, especially those with significance in Charleston and South Carolina. On his Instagram, Parker shares photos of life around Charleston, including a bourbon tasting at High Wire Distilling Co. and rooftop views of Charleston's beautiful sunset.

Follow him on Instagram.

BJ Dennis, Personal Chef and Caterer in Charleston, South Carolina

Chef BJ Dennis has dedicated his cooking career to paying homage to Gullah Geechee cuisine. Dennis’ cooking is soulful and reminds diners of the African influence on Low Country cuisine. On his Instagram feed, Dennis shares photos of dishes like fried chicken drumsticks on top of a bowl of Charleston gold rice, fresh oysters, and shrimp.

Follow him on Instagram.

Jason Stanhope, Fig Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina

Jason Stanhope is a James Beard Award winning chef at Fig in Charleston. He works with chef Mike Lata to create Southern dishes using local and heirloom ingredients. On his Instagram, he shares photos of beautifully plated dishes, fresh seafood and his family.

Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Rodney Scott, Scott’s Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, South Carolina

Rodney Scott is behind one of our favorite Southern barbecue spots. Last year, Southern Kitchen's Associate Editor Mike Jordan wrote: “Rodney Scott began smoking whole hogs at 11 years old, helping to chop oak, pecan and hickory wood from neighbors' land to fire up family-built pits on the property of their shacky grocery store. Thanks to a lot of attention and barbecue aficionados willing to drive hours for a taste of the famous hand-picked pig he's perfected, Rodney's now got his own setup on King Street, and needless to say that with his tried-and-true method of overnight hog-smoking (you can buy the whole thing at market price if you so choose) things are going very slow, but also very, very well.” On his Instagram feed, he shares behind-the-scenes photos of the smoking process, racks of ribs on the barbecue and yummy cornbread.

Follow him on Instagram.

Brooks Reitz, Little Jack’s Tavern in Charleston, South Carolina

Chef Brooks Reitz is a busy man. Not only is he the co-owner of Leon’s Oyster Shop, Melfi’s and Little Jack’s Tavern, he is also runs Jack Rudy Cocktail Company. On his Instagram feed, Reitz shares what’s going on in his busy life. Not only are we treated to photos of his restaurants, we also get to see his travel pictures, complete with all the food on his plate.

Follow him on Instagram.

Shuai Wang, Short Grain in Charleston, South Carolina

Chef Shuai Wang is bringing untraditional Japanese cuisine to the South with his food truck, Short Grain. Last year, he was named a James Beard award semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef category. Wang told Coastal Living he’s trying to create food that is a balance between Chinese, Low Country and Japanese cuisine. "I'm a Chinese chef trained in Japanese cooking," Shuai said. "With both, there's so much heritage and familial influence. It's the same thing with Charleston. The way they're making collard greens today is the same way they were making them 50 years ago." On his Instagram feed, he shares photos of creative ramen dishes, fresh fish, and large pots of broth simmering on a fiery grill.

Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Michael Toscano, Le Farfalle Osteria in Charleston, South Carolina

Chef Michael Toscano is a native of Houston, Texas, and he has worked in some of the best restaurants in the country, including Perla in New York City. He has been on Zagat’s 30 under 30 list, as well as a James Beard Award semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef category. At La Farfalle Osteria, Toscano has created a menu of modern Italian food like hand-made pasta and craft cocktails. On his Instagram feed, Toscano shares photos of trips around the world, what he’s eating, and what his family is up to.

Follow him on Instagram.

Karalee Fallert, Closed for Business in Charleston, South Carolina

Over the last decade, restaurateur Karalee Nielsen Fallert has opened Taco Boy, Monza, Closed for Business, The Royal American and The Park Café throughout Charleston. If she wasn’t busy enough running restaurants, she also created the Green Heart Project, where inner city youth learn about the power of micro farming and local food. On her Instagram feed, she shares the adventures her family is taking, recipes she’s developing and what’s happening in her restaurants.

Follow him on Instagram.

Haydn Shaak, The Loft at Soby’s in Greenville, South Carolina

Chef Haydn Shaak has been cooking since he was 15. He trained under his father and went on to become the executive sous chef at CityRange when he was only 21. Now he is cooking away at The Loft at Soby’s. On his Instagram feed, Shaak shares photos of chicken frying in cast iron, outside adventuring with his family and the fresh ingredients he's transforming into beautiful dishes.

Follow him on Instagram.

Jill Mathias, Chez Nous in Charleston, South Carolina

Chef Jill Mathias has cooked in kitchens in Puerto Rico, Martha’s Vineyard and Charleston. At Chez Nous in Charleston, she has created a menu inspired by food from southern France, northern Italy and northern Spain. On her Instagram feed, Mathias shares where she’s traveling, what she’s eating, and life in and out of the kitchen.

Follow her on Instagram.

William Fincher, The Obstinate Daughter in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Chef William Fincher grew up in Alabama and began working in the restaurant industry when he was 15. He moved to Charleston in 2006 and worked his way up to executive chef at both Closed for Business and Monza. As chef de cuisine at The Obstinate Daughter, Fincher has embraced the farm-to-table movement and is dedicated to using locally sourced ingredients. On his Instagram feed, Fincher shares photos of adventures with his family, cookbooks he’s reading, and, occasionally ingredients, like fresh seafood, that he’s using in his kitchen.

Follow him on Instagram.

John Lewis, Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, South Carolina

John Lewis is a master of barbecue. You can find long lines of barbecue fans waiting to get their hands on his smoked ribs, sausage and beef brisket at Lewis Barbecue. It’s no surprise his Instagram account is perfect for carnivores. There, his followers are gifted with photos of stacks of ribs and slices of brisket.

Follow him on Instagram.

Rachel Taylor is a staff writer at Southern Kitchen. She moved to Atlanta earlier this year after graduating college in Maryland, and has been a digital audience specialist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Politically Georgia, as well as a freelance writer for publications such as USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times on Maryland's Eastern Shore. She has lived in France and Italy, and loves to travel.

Charleston's FIG Names Jason Stanhope Executive Chef - Recipes

New visitors to Charleston may not notice the low-key, minimalist, single-story brick building at the corner of Meeting and Hasell streets, especially if they’re searching for older, more ornate, antebellum charms. Originally a 1950s Western Union office and later repurposed as a marinara-slinging Italian joint, the building now home to FIG does not clamor for attention. It doesn’t need to.

A sign on the door reads “FIG: Food Is Good.” And while it’s small, its message is the understatement of the decade. Since it opened in 2003, FIG has become known as one of Charleston’s best restaurants (many would argue the best)—a stand-alone institution that has consistently dished up fresh, subtly nuanced, intensely seasonal, clean and seductive flavors for 13 years and counting. Not only has it garnered two James Beard Foundation Awards, but two in the same category, which is almost unheard of, especially considering chef/partner Mike Lata and, later, his anointed executive chef, Jason Stanhope, each earned the Beard title “Best Chef: Southeast” from within the confines and challenges of an inherited, outdated, cramped, and steamy kitchen.

Those days are past. Earlier this year, Lata and partner Adam Nemirow invested in a total kitchen overhaul. Now, cooks don’t need to compete for ovens or space on the prep line, or gripe over poor drains or inadequate ventilation. Their biggest challenge is adapting to newfangled touch-screen technology, like convection ovens with finessed internal humidity controls.

Lata has compared the kitchen upgrade to a kid getting his first beater car and later acquiring a Cadillac. One could also compare it to a musical prodigy plucking on a hand-me-down violin, then being handed a Stradivarius. The instrument does not the musician make, but in the right hands, its melodies are transcendent.

FIG’s menus remain daily improvisations based on the finest ingredients to roll through the door. You could liken the restaurant to a well-established indie rock band, with its own flock of groupies and ability to fill the house. In that vein, its chef/farmer interdependence mirrors the very best of singer/songwriter collaborations. Each evening, FIG pulls out familiar tunes to please the crowds, but no performance is ever the same—its riffs are both exciting and mesmerizing. Lata, whose focus is now divided between FIG and newer establishment The Ordinary, has given Stanhope full authority to play (or not to play) the place’s greatest hits and to add to Lata’s already glowing repertoire.

Some guests may bemoan the disappearance of past favorites, such as cauliflower with mustard butter or the tomato tarte, but certain themes remain constant, at least for now. The evening lineup typically features FIG’s deeply savory and utterly smooth chicken liver pâté, which mimics foie gras on the palate. Or a chilled shrimp starter elevated with a trifecta of fennel, pine nuts, and plumped golden raisins, all kissed with a vinaigrette that Stanhope wooed out of visiting Gramercy Tavern chef Michael Anthony, then tweaked to make his own. Rendered bone-marrow salsa verde deepens the flavor profile of freshly caught fish. The nine-veggie plate takes a snapshot of what’s growing in local fields, underscored with bass lines of soffritto or garlic confit. You might find yourself wondering why the okra tastes better than any okra you’ve ever had.

Discerning palates may detect notes of buckwheat, alfalfa, or clover in Stanhope’s signature cottage cheese, depending on what the cows have been munching that week. My server describes the cottage cheese preparation as “an epic process” of careful sourcing, low and slow cooking, and temperature-sensitive development of the curds. That’s the sneak-attack of FIG’s artistry: what appears understated or familiar is in fact supremely orchestrated and highly technical. Even the pastry team embraces an element of clever surprise, achieving such wonders as nutty ice creams made with toasted peach leaves.

What do the recent renovations mean for diners? Very little—the food coming out of the kitchen is still as close to perfect as possible. Things are just more comfortable and more efficient now for those preparing it. The white-tableclothed dining room remains welcoming and unpretentious. It has undergone some nips and tucks of its own, including a gentle muting of color schemes and substitution of artwork with smoky mirrors, so there’s little to distract diners from conversation and the food on their plate.

For a while, after Stanhope’s James Beard win in 2015, the coveted bronze medallion hung over the cook line, gazing down at chefs scaling banded rudderfish, eavesdropping on conversations among cooks peeling potatoes destined for a silky puree. The medal now presides in the busy back bar area side by side with Lata’s, a gleaming testament to hard work, individual potential, and collective accomplishment. The bar has been set high, doubly high. And FIG does not disappoint.

THE DRAW: James Beard Award-winning cuisine in an elegant but unpretentious setting
THE DRAWBACK: Crowded bar area reservations can be difficult to snag.
DON'T MISS: Chicken liver pâté
PRICE: $7-$46

Turning Over a New FIG Leaf

When The Charleston Chef’s Table Cookbook (2009, Globe Pequot Press) and the “New” edition in 2018 were written and published, part of my intention as the author was to give readers the opportunity to relive their the broader memories and impressions of Charleston through a beautiful “coffee table” book, but also to give them the chefs’ tools to recreate their favorite dishes from some of her best restaurants when they returned home.

Never in a million years did I, and probably not most of you, anticipate the massive closures (hopefully for the short term) of not just Charleston’s restaurants, but many around the world due to corona virus disease. It’s hard for me to think of so many Mom & Pop eateries shuttered and sleeping, and even more so, Charleston’s eat-in restaurant delicacies denied to consumers, especially FIG’s. This restaurant encapsulates everything that cooking should be – simple, pure, unfettered, streamlined. Everything here shimmers on the plates with freshness and restraint. Nothing is overdone here everything is prepared perfectly. Chef Owner Mike Lata’s original local-meets-seasonal-and-simple credo, begun in 2003 when FIG opened, continues to shine in Executive Chef Jason Stanhope’s capable hands today. This salad, prepared with seasonally fresh (right now!) arugula and only a few other ingredients – all top quality – is quintessentially FIG.

To follow is an excerpt from The New Charleston Chef’s Table Cookbook to help you recreate the salad at home. FIG is currently closed but, like so many, hopes to reopen soon. If you would like to help them sustain the restaurant and their staff click here to visit their GOFUNDME account which has been established to help the restaurant pay their employees during the time of the restaurant’s closure. Now, let’s dig into this simply amazing salad, which would be absolutely delicious at your home Easter table or for any fresh, spring feast.

FIG’S Classic Arugula Salad

James Beard Best Chef Southeast (2015) winner and FIG Executive Chef Jason Stanhope’s clean, pure, and exquisitely sourced culinary style is very compatible with the whole FIG mission. “There is a magic in restraint,” says a reflective Stanhope, who considers his high school/college wrestling and football pursuits and sadly, the passing of his father at a young age as the impetuses to what’s become an amazing career in food. “I took this crazy gamble after Dad’s death to go and gain traction (in my life) and attend Le Cordon Bleu. I completely fell in love with the sports-like aspect of team work, vision, being bigger than self,” he says, alluding to a quote from football great Vince Lombardi. As for FIG, everyone there coddles every step of the cooking and restaurant experience with every ounce of collective energy.”

His classic, simple arugula salad, dotted with crispy shallots and aged cheese, is a perfect reflection of Stanhope’s style. “We like to serve this salad on the larger side, a celebration of a few simple ingredients. All arugula is different so be sure to taste yours before seasoning and adjust accordingly – if it is heartier it might want more olive oil, it it’s already spicy you might back down on the pepper,” he advises.

Stanhope includes a few more tips for making your salad the best it can be at home. “An easy alternative to frying your own shallots is to buy a bag of crispy shallots from an Asian market. But they are simple to make and will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature. We use a Pecorino Canestrato from Goat.Sheep.Cow but any hard, salty Italian cheese will work here. Using a micro-plane to grate the cheese yields a super fluffy pile that doesn’t weigh down the salad. For this salad, you can’t really have enough crispy shallots or cheese.”


3 – 4 cups canola oil, for frying

16 ounces arugula, gently washed and dried thoroughly

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (we use domestic Arbequina)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 – 6 ounces Pecorino Canestrato, or any hard, salty Italian cheese such as Grana Padano or parmesan

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt, or to taste

20 turns freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste

Fill a medium, heavy-bottomed pot about 2 inches deep with canola oil. (The oil will rise when you add the shallots so make sure the pot is less than halfway full). Using an insta-read or candy thermometer, heat oil to 275F. Line a plate with paper towels and set aside.

Peel shallots and slice on a mandolin (or carefully slice) into rings about 1/8-inch thick. Toss with cornstarch to coat and shake off the excess. When the oil is ready, fry the shallots until golden and crispy, about 12-15 minutes. Stir gently, from time to time. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. Season generously with salt.

Place arugula in a large bowl and gently toss with olive oil until glossy. Season with salt and black pepper. Drizzle in the lemon juice and divide generously among 4-6 plates. Using a microplane, finely grate the Pecorino over each salad. Top with crispy shallots and season to taste with freshly cracked black pepper.

Bon appetit! Wishing you delicious cooking and safe living at home and an eventual return to patronizing the restaurants we all know and love.


A Farewell to Greatness

Hominy Grill Bids Adieu

After a quarter century at the helm of Charleston’s culinary scene, Hominy Grill will serve its last platter of shrimp & grits and final slice of freshly whipped cream-topped buttermilk pie next week. For many, including me, it’s a very sad day, but in many ways a very understandable one. Chef Robert Stehling, arguably one of Charleston’s most talented chefs, is also arguably one of her most humble chefs in a world where bravado and ego often stir their way into a muddled soup. He’s mastered and consistently delivered the perfect balance between the most important ingredients in any kitchen: using the freshest local produce and goods, clean technique, and restraint. That’s why things that may seem simple, say a chocolate pudding or a biscuit, become ethereal in his hands. Stehling’s biscuits, made fresh over and over every morning, are more like flaky, crunchy, layered southern scones than their oft served sweet, cake-like counterparts. They beg for butter, lots of it, and the fresh preserves presented in little ceramic pots on the paper-lined tables daily, blackberry please! Ask any chef worth his/her salt the most difficult meal to serve (in this case, all day long) and they’ll tell you it is breakfast. Eggs, unless they’re served in a custard or a cake, don’t do well served cold.

When I first encountered and fell in love with “The Hominy,” in 2000, it was still the little neighborhood restaurant in the medical district largely undiscovered by the world outside of Charleston. A kind of Charleston Cheers, one frequently saw neighbors or the priest from the Episcopal church around the corner or doctors in scrubs. The food was just as delicious then. In time, Stehling would get recognized with national press and a long-overdue James Beard Award in 2008. Dinner service was scratched and replaced with breakfast and lunch, and wisely, breakfast all day. The space was enlarged and by now the masses gathered and hovering daily were served delicious cocktails bobbing with fresh herbs and ingenuity while they awaited their seat at the Hominy holy grail. Still, Stehling was nearly always there, in the kitchen, sprinkling his magic dust, long after having reached the success where many another chef might leave the trench work to others. And, the food is still as remarkable as ever.

I felt compelled to drive by the other day after Hominy Grill’s imminent April 28 closure was made public. It was about 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. My heart ached for a quieter time, days not so long ago where I may be able to slip in and get a seat without a wait, without a lot of fanfare. Just a simple supper of buttery, mellow squash casserole or sweet/acidic tomato pie chased with the most authentic cup of she-crab soup in Charleston, perhaps the entire Lowcountry. But, it was not to be. The crowds were already there and I decided to drive on by.

Stehling, in his sage, quiet way, pointed out in an exit interview that everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end. As much as the crowds must have pleased, for an artist such as him, they must have been something of a drain. The masses that came to eat a celebrated Big Nasty, just so they could say they did it, as opposed to really settling in and savoring it. One wonders if some missed the pure love in the food here, the artistry, the perfect freshness of the ingredients. Surely, most did not. I will miss Hominy Grill, but wish Stehling, his staff, and his family a future filled with wonder, joy and some welcome and well-deserved relaxation. For indeed, every ending affords a new beginning.

Hominy Grill’s celebrated, silky, Buttermilk Pie.

Master Chef Robert Stehling, the magic behind Hominy Grill’s greatness.

Hominy Grill’s Shrimp & Grits were always made with plump, local, briny shrimp and coarse ground grits. Best in town. Bar none.

The fish guru transforming what Charleston eats

It’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing fishermen. It seems idyllic to spend your days catching fish under a big, sunny sky, riding out to sea while the wind and sea-salt spray hits your face and at night sleeping on a gently rocking boat under the stars.

Say any of this to commercial fisherman Mark Marhefka and he’ll set you straight. Marhefka has been fishing off the Southeast for more than 40 years. He’ll tell you that the life of a fisherman is long hours, tight spaces, and exhaustion. He’ll also tell you that it’s the only profession he ever wanted, a life on the ocean, working as his own boss.

As a local food journalist, I’ve become friends with Marhefka over the years. On a recent afternoon I visited him on his boat I wanted to learn to clean fish. Soon I was glistening in fish scales stuck to my sweaty arms, and when I looked up, Marhefka gave me a thumbs up. He pointed out gills, where to slice a fin, but then he thought better of allowing me to slice that fin. He wasn’t about to risk a ruined fish.

Charleston’s restaurant scene has made it a top destination for food lovers from around the world. If you find yourself eating tilefish or triggerfish at award-winning restaurants such as FIG or Bar Normandy or Husk, there’s a good chance that Marhefka caught it.

He’s the co-owner with his wife, Kerry, of Abundant Seafood , a wholesale operation with a community-supported fishery (CSF), one of the only of its kind in the country. Abundant Seafood sells prized fish like grouper and snapper, but it is best known for bringing bycatch—undercaught, underutilized, and, Marhefka would argue, undervalued fish—to the market. These fish include banded rudderfish , a member of the amberjack family that has a meaty, white flesh, and wreckfish , a mild-tasting, deep-water fish that, Marhefka says, is growing in popularity.

Driven by curiosity and concerns about overfishing, many Charleston chefs—among them Jill Mathias of Chez Nous, Mike Lata of The Ordinary and FIG, and Sean Brock of Husk and McCrady’s—are introducing bycatch to their menus.

And Marhefka is not just their seafood purveyor. For many of Charleston’s chefs he’s become a teacher, a wellspring of knowledge about the underappreciated fish off South Carolina’s shores— and a trusted friend.

The son of a commercial fisherman, Marhefka began his career the day after graduating high school. In the 1980s he started to fear that whole classes of fish he’d once caught with his father might suddenly disappear from the local waters it seemed that entire generations of certain species had grown scarce. The system was no longer working. So he did what many in his field, driven purely by short-term profit, might not do: He went to officials and urged them to implement fishing quotas and increase the protected fishing areas.

In the 1990s Marhefka became an official adviser to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, for which he participated in stock assessments and identified spawning sites in need of protection.

His work with environmental officials changed his outlook. And then it changed his fishing.

“We purposefully broke the system when we started Abundant Seafood,” Kerry Marhefka says. Before launching Abundant Seafood she worked as a fishery biologist, helping federal officials designate marine-protected areas off the coast. I n 2006, faced with tighter fishing regulations and other financial burdens, the Marhefkas decided to start selling their catch directly to local restaurants. The move allowed them to keep the fish they caught in the local food chain.

In 2010 Abundant Seafood added the CSF: Employing the business model of community-sponsored agriculture, they collected payment at the beginning of the season and distributed directly to the consumer. Currently the CSF has 450 members, each of whom pays $300 for a share (or $150 for a half share) so that they can regularly pick up fresh, dressed fish at Marhefka’s dock in Mount Pleasant, 3 miles from downtown Charleston.

“There is so much out there outside of your typical salmon or whatever basic fish you get from American sushi restaurants,” says Shuai Wang, the chef behind Short Grain food truck, one of Bon Appétit ’s Best New Restaurants in 2016. Wang has used catches like tilefish in his popular O.G. Chirashi sashimi rice bowl and king mackerel, which he pickles for a variety of dishes. “Since I’ve been dealing with Mark, I’ve seen and eaten more of a variety of fish than I ever did in my 10 years of cooking in New York,” Wang says.

Jason Stanhope, executive chef of the James Beard Award–winning restaurant FIG , is another acolyte. “He’s our guru,” Stanhope says. “He points in a direction, and that’s the direction the menu will go. He’s so informed that we simply follow his lead until we catch up.”

Stanhope adds that he’s eager to keep learning about all the underutilized bycatch off the Carolina coast. “In having and showcasing the best of what is out there right now at every point in the season, we’re promoting the future of fishing.” Marhefka will show him the way.

Ask a Chef: New Hampshire Native Brett Cavanna

After coming up the ranks at FIG and Café Boulud, chef Brett Cavanna returned to his native New Hampshire to helm the kitchen at Louie&rsquos, where he offers up comforting, handcrafted pastas and rustic Italian fare. For his upcoming Beard House dinner, Cavanna will serve a delicious, stick-to-your-ribs winter feast&mdashthe perfect antidote to mid-February doldrums. In anticipation of his comfort-fare fête, we spoke to the chef about his love affair with agnolotti, his Beard House menu inspiration, and why chicken tenders are still great at any age.

What is your inspiration behind the menu for this Beard House event?

Our inspiration is to showcase the things we believe we do best at the restaurant: sourcing the best possible ingredients in our area, not fussing with them too much, seasoning properly, and maintaining our high standard of execution. Keeping it rustic and traditional.

What's a dish on your Beard House event menu that you're especially excited about or proud of, and why?

We're looking forward to all of our offerings because we put together a menu that we've never done before. We're excited to roll it out for the first time at the Beard House. But I'm really happy with our agnolotti because we take a lot of pride in how beautifully shaped they are.

What&rsquos your guilty-pleasure food?

It's gotta be chicken tenders with hot sauce, for sure. They're still good, no matter what age you are. (And especially if you've had a few drinks.)

Who's been your biggest inspiration, and what dish would you cook to thank them?

I've had many people who have inspired me. Zach Bell at Café Boulud Palm Beach was my first real mentor. He basically taught me how to cook and turned me into the technique-driven cook I try to be today. Jason Stanhope at FIG Charleston taught me how to be a great cook and manager at the same time. I learned how to slow down and think more about my decisions throughout the day. Stanhope and Mike Lata also made me fall in love with a simple, pure style of food and flavor.

Charleston Dining District

So far so good. Smoke BBQ is holding its own in the "cursed" property on Coleman Boulevard in Mt. Pleasant where co-owner Roland Feldman bravely opened up a second shop. His first, at 487 King Street in downtown Charleston is smokin' hot, so much so that he's planning a third. So when we heard that a new food truck may be on the front burner as well, we hurried over to get the lowdown. That's when we met "The Reverend."

Nicknamed for the way his white tee pokes out above his black chef's coat, Neal Stefan DeArmon is not really a holy man but “a vibrant spirit” who overflows with positive energy—and that's why Feldman hired him on the spot during the 2017 Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

“The festival sent over a few volunteer helpers and we put him to work at the Smoke BBQ booth,” says Feldman. “When the band kicked on his spirit lit up like Whoopie Goldberg in Sister Act. He was singing and clapping and wearing that black jacket—I said, my friend, I'm calling you reverend and you're coming to work at Smoke.”

A military veteran who “found his calling” attending the culinary program at Charleston's community outreach organization One80 Place, DeArmon and Feldman clicked and he gained more responsibility in the kitchen, which led to the creation of a cornbread to end all cornbread recipes. It's gotten such rave reviews that the Smoke team is taking it on the road with DeArmon in the drivers seat. We hear he'll soon be doling out all sorts of Southern style cornbread-themed dishes in the City Market next to Palmetto Carriage Works on Guignard Street.

Le Creuset Guest Chef Series with Josh Walker of Xiao Bao Biscuit

L'Atelier de Le Creuset will be hosting Chef Josh Walker from Xiao Bao Biscuit on August 26th from 6:00-8:00pm. Specializing in soul food from all across Asia, Walker is headlining their "Wok It Out" event. Intrigued by Walker's serious wok skills? Tickets are on sale now for this cooking demonstration with multiple course tastings + wine pairings. 

Interested in the cookware you see at the event? Visit the Le Creuset Boutique at 112 North Market Street in historic downtown Charleston and cook like the pros in your own kitchen. 

Cookbook Signing Event at the Le Creuset Boutique

The Le Creuset Boutique will be hosting a cookbook signing event on Friday, May 22nd from 5-6pm with author and Indian cooking expert, Anupy Singla. Anupy will be answering questions on Indian cooking and signing copies of her book, Indian for Everyone . This event is free & open to the public.

On Thursday, May 21, Anupy Singla will be doing an Indian Cooking Demo at L’Atelier Le Creuset (French for “The Le Creuset Workshop”). This event is $50 and includes a tasting and copy of her cookbook. Click here to buy tickets.

L'Atelier Guest Chef Series with Jason Stanhope of FIG

 L'Atelier de Le Creuset is welcoming Chef Jason Stanhope of FIG on April 22nd from 6:00-8:00pm as part of their Guest Chef Series.

Chef Jason Stanhope will be doing a cooking demo featuring Soft Shell Crabs. The demo includes a multiple course tasting and wine pairing. Click here for more information or to purchase tickets. Must be 21 and over to attend.

Growing up in Topeka, Kansas, Jason Stanhope’s experience with great cuisine was reserved for special occasions. For his family, the ritual of cooking and eating together was more important than what was on the table, which helped fuel his life-long obsession with sourcing the highest quality ingredients. Cooking with his family also instilled the desire to put on a great show every night and make guests feel like they are a part of the restaurant family, which is a founding principle of his culinary philosophy.

Stanhope moved to San Francisco to pursue a culinary degree at Le Cordon Bleu, and fell in love with the kitchen immediately. During this time, he had the chance to work in Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru, for Michael Raas. He later moved East to join the team at Mike Lata's acclaimed FIG, where he has worked his way through the kitchen during his six-year tenure, starting as chef-tournant to his current position of executive chef.

The Local Palate and Le Creuset Team Up for New Technique Tuesday Cooking Classes

 The Local Palate is teaming up with cookware giant Le Creuset to bring you “Technique Tuesdays.” Classes are taught by Chef Michael Carmel of The Culinary Institute in Charleston at the Le Creuset Atelier, Le Creuset’s national marketing headquarters in Charleston. Featuring recipes from The Local Palate and useful tips and techniques, it’s an evening that includes the opportunity to taste what you learn.

Technique Tuesday classes are held on the second Tuesday of each month and cost only $25 or are free with a purchase from the Le Creuset Boutique on Market Street. The first class will be on Tuesday, March 10th from 6:00 - 7:30pm. Click here to purchase tickets.

From Hooch To Haute Cuisine: A Nearly Extinct Bootlegger's Corn Gets A Second Shot

For nearly a century, Jimmy Red corn was used by bootleggers to make moonshine whiskey. The variety nearly went extinct in the early 2000s, but two remaining ears of corn were used to revive it. Now, the heirloom corn is thriving in the South, and being used widely by chefs and distillers. Peter Frank Edwards hide caption

For nearly a century, Jimmy Red corn was used by bootleggers to make moonshine whiskey. The variety nearly went extinct in the early 2000s, but two remaining ears of corn were used to revive it. Now, the heirloom corn is thriving in the South, and being used widely by chefs and distillers.

Sometime around the turn of the last century, a blood-red, flint-hard "dent" corn with a rich and oily germ made its way from Appalachia to the islands of Charleston, S.C. The corn was grown out by local farmers and bootleggers, who found that it made spectacular hooch, or moonshine whiskey.

"In the 1980s, you used to be able to go to James Island," recalls Glenn Roberts, founder of heirloom seed purveyor Anson Mills. "And, if you knew the right people, they'd sell you delicious food out their backdoor kitchen and you'd get a jar of Jimmy Red hooch with it. But though I knew the hooch, I never knew the corn."

The Salt

From Farm To Distillery, Heirloom Corn Varieties Are Sweet Treasures

Nobody really knew the corn – not until the early 2000s, when the last known bootlegger growing the corn died, and the corn almost died with him. Two ears were rescued from his plot and gifted to celebrated local farmer and seed saver Ted Chewning, with the suggestion that he grow it out for his hogs.

Chewning loves to save seeds — he has revived nearly extinct corns, beans, heirloom radishes, watermelons and field peas. He rescued Jimmy Red as well, growing it and saving kernels each year, increasing the seed stock. Little did he know that soon it would burst on the restaurant scene as a prized heirloom cultivar that makes unforgettable red-flecked grits and a rich, smooth whiskey with honey-nut undertones.

"This is what grits must have tasted like a hundred years ago," says Forrest Parker, chef de cuisine at The Drawing Room, at the Vendue Hotel in Charleston's historic French Quarter.

"It behaves like no other corn I've distilled," says Scott Blackwell, co-founder of High Wire Distilling in Charleston, S.C. "The pearls of oil on the distillate taste of marzipan and light cherry — not corn."

Soon the siren corn was calling to others.

Chewning gave seeds to organic growers and farmers and even to food historian David Shields, author of The Culinarians: Lives and Careers from the First Age of Fine Dining, who boarded it onto the Slow Food Ark of Taste, a catalogue of endangered heritage foods.

He gave it to chef Sean Brock, who grew it himself and started serving Jimmy Red grits, cornbread and flapjacks at his storied Charleston restaurants, McCradys and Husk. Brock loved the flavorful corn so much he had it tattooed on his arm.

With Brock's patronage, Jimmy Red was suddenly a celebrity cultivar across the country.

Venues like Charleston's Fig, whose executive chef, Jason Stanhope, is a James Beard award winner, put grits on their menu for the first time. Jimmy Red grits have been grown and served by Chef Ryan Pera at Coltivare in Houston. They have also been on the menu at Gavin Kaysen's Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. They are grown, milled and even sold online by Greg Johnsman of Geechie Boy Mill, of Edisto Island.

"When you open the bag to decant them, this wonderful nutty aroma wafts out," says Chef Parker. "The grits pair really well with brown butter sauces at dinner."

If corn had a personality, Jimmy Red might be described as demanding but inordinately generous.

Jimmy Red was brought back from the brink of extinction by renowned Southern farmer and seed saver Ted Chewning. Now, several farms grow this heritage corn. The corn has an unusually large germ — the center of the kernel, which holds all the flavor that chefs and distillers love so much. Peter Frank Edwards hide caption

Like many heritage corns, it is an open pollinator — the plant version of promiscuous, easily fertilized by pollens blown its way from other corns. To ensure purity, the corn requires hand pollinating, says Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, who now sells Jimmy Red grits to chefs and also grows the corn in three different geographic regions to ensure that no natural disaster wipes it out. Wax-coated bags are placed over the plant's tassels (the male flowers) and silks (part of the female flowers). The pollen accumulates in the bags, and is later collected and dusted by hand onto the silks.

The Salt

On The Trail To Preserve Appalachia's Bounty Of Heirloom Crops

Like all field corns, it must be harvested when mature and is inedible unless processed. (In contrast, sweet corn is picked at the milk stage and can be eaten raw or cooked.) But the most pronounced feature of the corn is its unusually large germ — the soft center of the kernel, where the flavor resides. It's so large that when ground, the grits take most of the intensely flavorful flecks of the germ with them. And when distilled, that germ gives off the fragrant oil Blackwell marvels over.

It also carries within its brilliant red ears an invisible history of cross pollinating and cross-breeding. "If you grow it out in large enough plots," explains Roberts, "it will begin to throw off new varieties. I've seen five new distinct varieties, and kept two."

The Salt

Chefs' Secret For More Flavorful Tortillas? Heirloom Corn From Mexico

Roberts has seen ears with an orange or white endosperm, kernels that are blue or white. He believes the corn was crossbred with decorative Native American thanksgiving corns at some point.

The flavorful germ offers endlessly creative outtakes on cooking. "If you want your grits pink," says Roberts, "cook it with an acid like Ogeechee lime juice. If you want purple or even black grits, put some baking soda in to render it alkaline."

If grits are one part of the story, whiskey is the other — and perhaps the ultimate fate for an old hooch corn. "I've been thinking about this corn for years," says Scott Blackwell — ever since 2014, when Roberts laid 50 different heirloom corns out on a table for him to view.

"Which one makes the best whiskey?" he asked.

Roberts didn't miss a beat: "Jimmy Red."

"I'll write a grant check to Clemson University to grow that one," Blackwell said.

Clemson University research scientist Brian Ward, who specializes in bringing old seed lines back from near extinction, grew 2.5 acres that year.

High Wire Distilling has been crafting bourbon from Jimmy Red since 2014. This year's release of over 1,900 bottles comes from 14 acres grown in 2015, and is sold in a special Le Creuset bottle created for High Wire Distilling. High Wire Distilling hide caption

Roberts took the harvest up to his seed house, cleaned and milled it, and sent it back to High Wire Distilling. "Right away I could tell it was very different," Blackwell says. "Super earthy. Super sweet. Like banana laffy taffy." He crafted two barrels of 100 percent corn-based bourbon (aged in virgin charred barrels). The whiskey didn't need wheat or rye for flavor. Jimmy Red had enough flavor on its own.

From those two barrels, the distillery crafted 570 bottles of bourbon that, according to Ann Marshall, Blackwell's wife and business partner, sold out in 11 minutes. "Luckily we had ¾ of a tasting bottle left that we took home for ourselves."

In 2015, Blackwell grew 14 acres of Jimmy Red. In 2016, he grew 65 acres, and in 2017, he grew a generous 85 acres. The bourbon from the 2015 crop is being released now, as it's aged for two years. Blackwell has experimented with different farms, and is labeling bottles by the farms they were grown on.

"The soil of the farm totally changes the taste," says Blackwell — as proven when he shared fresh, unaged bourbon with this author on a Saturday in late October. The whiskey from a farm called Lavington (with peaty black soil) had sweet floral notes, while the same whiskey from the Pee Dee River valley (with sandy loamy soil) tasted like earthy green banana and butterscotch. After being aged, those distinctive flavors will merge into the smoky tannins of bourbon.

"This is really a community story," says Roberts. "This entire community of Southerners saved this corn." He pauses and reflects back. "My daughter's first corn doll — made 18 years ago when she was 8 — was crafted from Jimmy Red. She used the shucked ear to make the doll, the husk and silk for the clothing and hair, and one red kernel for the heart."

Indeed, heirloom cultivars like Jimmy Red are the heart of a Southern renaissance in traditional foodways, the repatriation of seeds as well as recipes — weaving together flavor and history into meals and drinks to relish and remember.

Jill Neimark is an Atlanta-based writer whose work has been featured in Discover, Scientific American, Science, Nautilus, Aeon, Psychology Today and The New York Times.

Watch the video: Charleston Baby - Savoy Orpheans - HMV B. 2172


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